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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2079

Senator COOK (Minister for Industry, Science and Technology and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Science) (3.07 p.m.) —I simply repeat some of the things that I said in answer to the question at question time today. The most significant thing is that there were 184,185 different incidents sterilised for sampling from because they were found to be interesting by the Auditor-General—that is, after surveying the population of transactions, those that were particularly interesting were taken aside and a sample from them of 1,866 transactions was made.

  So it is not a random sample of the incidence of misuse of credit cards; it is a targeted sample, and getting it in that context is getting it in the right context. That is not to say that there is no concern in the government about misuse of credit cards. That is simply to get the proportions of misuse into a proper context so one can understand the numerical incidence rather than fall prey to a widesweeping allegation which seemed to underpin the questions from the opposition that there is rampant misuse. There is not rampant misuse. But there is misuse that causes the government some concern.

  I corrected my answer because, obviously, I have an interest in making sure that what I say in the Senate is accurate. The significant part of the answer is that measures are in place, as we speak, to ensure that credit cards are properly administered by the departments, and the Department of Finance has discharged its obligations by ensuring that all secretaries to departments have had their attention drawn to the proper guidelines and have been requested to make sure that those proper guidelines are observed. Because of some of the observations made in the Auditor-General's report, next month the Department of Finance will issue a best practice guide to credit card use to ensure that the proportionally small number of indiscretions is reduced even further. I think that is again a proper and responsible administrative action by the Department of Finance.

  With those things on the record, it cannot therefore be contended, as was argued in the questions put to me in question time, that the government is somehow derelict in its responsibilities. It is not. When we add to that the fact that the joint public accounts committee is going to examine this issue—and the minister has, through me, indicated his willingness to accept any further constructive propositions that might come from such an inquiry—we can see a minister and a department aiming to reduce the amount of improper use and to listen to advice on how it might be reduced further.

  The example of sunglasses has come up and it was referred to in this debate just a moment ago. The sunglasses were a purchase that occurred in the Department of Defence and they were for a detachment of troops being sent to the Sahara Desert. As the Minister for Defence, Senator Ray, indicated in question time, they have since been returned because obviously the Department of Defence has found some other way of supplying troops with those sunglasses.

  When we see the things that are listed in the Auditor-General's report it does give rise to some sort of speculation. For example, there was a purchase from Annerley Jewellers, again by the Department of Defence. When we look at the reason for this purchase, we see that it was a purchase of analog wristwatches suitable for heavy duty use in the Sahara Desert by military troops.

  I referred to a purchase of a wreath for Anzac Day. The only other purchase I have of a floral presentation is that made at an Indooroopilly florist by the CSIRO, which was in connection with a visit by the Governor-General. Obviously the CSIRO purchased some flowers to make a presentation to the Governor-General when he visited its establishment. There is a reference here to a purchase from Cannons Liquor Barn, which obviously would attract some attention. The purchased item was two cans of glass cleaner for cleaning photocopiers used for archival purposes. It was an emergency purpose in those circumstances.

  Those opposite can make mischief and fun of this, but the purpose of the credit card is to have a simple, flexible means of buying and paying for government purchases of very small items of a very small variety where circumstances dictate. Any sensible organisation would have such a facility available to it.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.